The Catholic Family Handbook: Part 1 How to Strengthen Your Marriage

Needing suggestions on Evangeline’s discipline issues, Ryan and I enlisted the help of Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik by way of his book The Catholic Family Handbook. That is to say, Ryan found this book in the library one day and the chapters were short, it had the nihil obstat and imprimatur so we thought we’d give it a go. It is written by a priest which wasn’t weird to me (the non-Catholic in our marriage) until I got to thinking “wait, then who’s this random 90’s looking family on the cover??”

The book is actually an abridged version of Lovasik’s Catholic Marriage and Child Care written in 1962, a fact we only discovered after we began reading. I’ve enjoyed the condensed, cut to the chase version, but Ryan feels he would prefer to read the expanded original. The book is broken into two parts: How to Strengthen Your Marriage and How to Raise Good Kids. As Lovasik puts it “you must love each other before you can love your children perfectly” meaning the virtues needed to have a strong marriage will enable a couple to raise good kids.

I have finished the first part on marriage. Most of the advice given is self-proclaimed time tested techniques. Those no-brainer things we all know by still need to be reminded of. Conveniently, his chapter titles are the bullet points to his advice on strengthening marriage. They are as follows:

  1. Imitate the Holy Family
  2. Reflect the dignity of God’s fatherhood
  3. Guide your children and shape their character
  4. Make your home a place of harmony, goodness, and nobility
  5. Be open to the gift of children
  6. Do your part and trust in God’s help
  7. Be patient
  8. Be honest and sincere
  9. Practice kindness
  10. Strive for genuine love

There have been a few things I’ve gratefully taken away from this first part of the book, a few things that have been hard to hear and a few things that I’ve taken issue with.

First the positive! The first thing I found interesting is the difference he notes between natural and supernatural love in regards to motherhood. Natural love is those inborn feelings that often come naturally to a mother– concern for their child’s safety, comfort and needs. These things good. Verily, they are the founding definitions of what it is to be a mother. In the grand scheme of  eternity, however,they can be short sighted as they are concerned only with the child’s immediate needs. Whereas supernatural love is concerned with the greater good of the child’s soul. Virtues such as piety, obedience, modesty, purity, fear of the Lord and ultimately a child’s realization of their own supernatural destiny can all be learned through a mother’s supernatural love. Of course a child cannot benefit from one type of love without the other.

The chapters on patience and kindness struck a chord with me as well. We all know we ought to be patient, but Lovasik narrates all the harm anger can cause to a marriage, a family and a child’s future. It was a real eye-opener and has re-ignited my motivation to control my anger and practice patience. In the chapter regarding kindness, Lovasik mentions again and again how damaging gossip and ridicule can be–both to a marriage, to child rearing and to a family for generations. This is something my family has been confronting as of late. My aunt bravely hosted dinner for our entire family a few months ago to publicly apologize for the ridicule she had been responsible for over the years and for the damage it had caused. Sitting at dinner, I think we all could admit this was something we were guilty of. It seems to be the way our families all operated, secretly joking about others. Backbiting, gossip and ridicule are things I’ve been on guard for since my aunt’s dinner, and I’ve seen some subtle and unexpected changes around my family as well. While certainly it is true that gossiping and ridiculing are damaging to an entire family, apology and transparency can break through generations of cruel hearts.

Humanae Vitae

I was nearly finished with the first part of the book before I realized the book had been written in 1962– pre Humane Vitae as Ryan poignantly observed and Wikipedia confirmed. While Lovasik’s work has been cut to the quick and many of his points lack the benefit of full explanation and pastoral hedging, I found that most of what he had to say was constructive and in keeping with a Christian view of marriage. Every so often though, he’d throw out a tid-bit that brought to mind the likes of misogynists Don Draper and Archie Bunker. He often advises wives to act in ways that will not betray her submissive status to her husband. To be honest, in a lot of ways that was refreshing to hear. It can be hard for a woman who does want to be a godly wife, helpful and submissive to her husband’s authority, to find good advice that accounts for the Biblical hierarchy of family. However, I found Lovasik’s advice of “do what you’re supposed to and pray that God changes your husband’s heart in time” to be upsetting. Surely there is more a wife can do to spur her husband to holier behavior than just wishing and hoping? In the spirit of equality, though, he had some harsh things to say about husbands who do not regard their own authority with humility, fear and trembling.

All in all I have enjoyed the first half of the book. I agree that the relationship between a husband and wife needs to be strong to present a united front for child rearing.  With that in mind, on to the second part, raising good kids!

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